By Mitsie Scaglione
This holiday always prompts reflection on the many reasons to be grateful – and opportunities to give and offer thanks.
The business of art takes us around the world. And although our travels often focus on work, Albert and I have been able to uncover some remarkable gems: those special places that we deeply connect with and feel the kinship and comfort of home, even when we are far away.
One of those places is the Catholic church we attend when we are visiting the Turks and Caicos Islands. Until recently, the mass was celebrated in a plain cinderblock building, but now the mission parish has a new church that accommodates the faithful – visitors or residents – who travel there to attend Sunday service.
Albert and I like to go to Haitian mass. There are many Haitian people who have migrated to the islands for work and hope for a better life. The local people aren’t always keen on migrants coming in for work, and many would-be migrant Haitians are stopped before they ever make it to the islands, or they are deported once they arrive. (It’s close to a 200-mile boat trip from Haiti.)
Regardless of their plight, how they got there, or the work they do – their worship is genuine. It is lively and heartfelt in spite of their troubles. Although the people don’t have much in the way of worldly possessions, what they have in faith, joy and love feels like you can almost grab it. The mass is in the Haitian Creole language, and the music is from their culture. The children are almost bright and shiny – eager and so carefully scrubbed and dressed for the weekly celebration.
The parish has a school – Holy Family Academy – that educates close to 100 children ranging from kindergarten age through high school. (It opened to just 10 students in 2006). The resources at the school are sparse, but the children are doing well. The older students for the first time are able to access online classes from Florida, which has greatly expanded their curriculum opportunities.
But then this …
That’s a photo of how thieves got into the school offices. They tore off some of the roof, broke through windows to get into classrooms, and pretty much ransacked the place before taking what they could – including many laptop computers. It’s truly a devastating loss for this community.
By coincidence or fate, this happened just before we arrived for a visit. Albert and I were heading to the school to meet with Msgr. Peter with the intent of offering financial help. We try to focus our donations in support of children and education.
Expecting to find the place bustling with activity, instead we found it empty of students and filled with a sad and broken mess. We were unable to meet with Msgr. Peter since he was occupied with the details of the crime scene. However, without missing a beat, Albert told a woman from Holy Family Academy that we had come prepared to make a personal donation of $50,000 to the school. In addition to that, and in light of the circumstances, Albert told her we were also donating money to replace the 11 stolen computers so students could be sure to keep on track.
There’s no way of explaining the school community’s expression of gratitude for the contribution we made, but I can assure you, Albert and I are the grateful ones.
I know the saying is “it’s better to give than to receive,” and we are thankful to be able to give what we have. But in reality, we are also – maybe much more so – the grateful receivers. We don’t speak Creole, and the culture is vastly different from our own, but that island church feels like home. Every time we are so graciously welcomed there, it is like opening a beautifully wrapped present filled with the gift of comfort and joy, and given unconditionally. And that’s a gift in our frequent travels that we gratefully accept, cherish and continue to carry with us.
Perhaps you would like to help us as we try to improve the lives of children through educational initiatives. Please consider making a donation on behalf of this school – or one of our philanthropic efforts.
And know that Albert and I wish for you and yours the comforts of home and a bounty of reasons to be grateful on this Thanksgiving Day.